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Geek, part-time cyclist, ecoist, bad photographer, vegetarian. I fiddle with WordPress and Edu Tech.

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Borscht – Beetroot soup with feta recipe

A friend gave me some home grown beetroot so I decided to make a bit of Borscht, or beetroot soup!

Ingredients – Makes enough for 3-4

600g (3-4 large beets), peeled and grated coarsely

500g (around 5-6) of ripe tomatoes, halved (I suppose if you’re really lazy you could use a tin of chopped tomatoes)

2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

A bit of olive oil

500ml of vegetable stock (I used 2 ‘Knorr Stock Pots’)

Freshly ground black pepper

Some feta cheese

Method

Place the halved tomatoes in an oven dish, pour a little olive oil over the top of them and throw on the chopped garlic.

Place in the oven at 190C (I’ve got a fan oven) until they’re soft, it took me about 30 minutes.

Place the tomatoes in a sieve and rub through into a bowl to remove the skins and pips.

Put a little more oil in a pan and sweat the onion with a twist of black pepper.

Add the stock and beetroot, give it all a stir and bring to the boil for about 10 minutes or until the beetroot is tender.

Stir in the tomato purée.

Using either a stick blender or a normal blender process the soup until completely smooth. If you’ve got white walls take care, it’s easy to spray the soup all over if you’re using a stick blender!

Transfer the soup to warmed bowls and crumble a little of the feta cheese on top.

Serve with crusty bread!

You might also want to…

  • Add a shot of vodka
  • Chill in the fridge and serve cold

Coronation butter beans recipe

A Coronation Chicken alternative for veggies, pretty damn tasty!

Coronation Butter Beans

Coronation Butter Beans

Ingredients – Makes about enough for 8 people to dip into at a party!

4 tins of good quality butter beans, drained

1 large tablespoon of mango chutney

2 large tablespoons of Greek yogurt

2 large tablespoons of good mayonnaise

1 large tablespoon of madras curry powder (hot)

A sprinkling of flaked almonds

1 large carrot, peeled and grated

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

A handful of chopped coriander

You might also want…

Flat bread, pitas or naan

Method

Place the mango chutney, Greek yogurt, mayonnaise and curry powder in a large bowl, mix until combined.

Taste the mix to see if it’s to your liking, add a bit more curry powder if you like!

Add the butter beans and flaked almonds, stir until coated.

If you’re ready to serve now, then carry on, if you’ve got a few hours, cover and place in the fridge for the flavours to get into the butter beans.

Transfer the mixture to a serving dish, sprinkle on the grated carrot, sliced red onion and grated coriander.

Serve with flat bread, pitas or naan!

Peanut butter triple chocolate brownie recipe

I made this (without the peanut butter) to give as Christmas presents to friends last year. It’s gooey and incredible, the peanut butter gives it a lovely taste and crunch!

Ingredients

300g of unsalted butter
300g of good dark chocolate
135g of plain flour
60g of cocoa powder
120g of good white chocolate, chopped into small pieces
120g of good milk chocolate, chopped into small pieces
A large handful of milk chocolate drops
6 medium free range eggs
410g of caster sugar
A jar of good crunchy peanut butter (Meridian brand if you can get it)

Method

Cut up the butter and chop the dark chocolate into chunks, add them both to a heavy pan and melt slowly over a low heat. Use the bain marie method if you can be bothered. When melted, leave to cool.

Sieve the flour and cocoa into a bowl and set to one side.

Break the eggs into a bowl, add the caster sugar and beat with an electric mixer until the mix has doubled in size. If you lift the beaters from the mix and it leaves a trail for a few seconds, it’s done!

Pour the cooled chocolate over the eggs and sugar. Gently fold it in to avoid knocking all the air out of the mixture.

Hold the sieve over the eggy chocolate mixture and re-sieve the flour and cocoa into it, gently fold it into the mixture to avoid knocking more air out.

Add the chopped white and milk chocolate to the mix and stir in.

Line a 3cm high brownie tray with baking parchment and pour in the mixture, ease it in to the corners and smooth out the top.

Place dots of peanut butter on top of the mix (I did half with peanut butter and half without) then sprinkle the chocolate drops on top.

Place the tray in the oven at 175C (I’ve got a fan oven) for 30 minutes.

Leave to cool, cut up into chunks!

Hob Nobs recipe

Quick and easy, much more satisfying than buying a pack! These can easily be made vegan by substituting butter for vegan spread.

Hob Nobs

Hob Nobs

Ingredients – Makes 30 – 40 depending on size

225g of self raising flour
225g of sugar
225g of good whole porridge oats
1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
225g unsalted butter
1 tablespoon of golden syrup
1 tablespoon of hot water

Method

Place all the dry ingredients into a large bowl.

In a pan melt the butter, syrup and add the hot water.

When melted add to the dry ingredients.

Mix well, make into small balls and place on a greased baking tray, flatten slightly.

Bake at 180C for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Cool on a rack and nom!

Butternut Squash and Spinach Cannelloni Recipe

I’ve neglected the food part of the blog for a while so I thought I’d write this down, I had a butternut squash to use and came up with this!

Ingredients – Makes 6

A 1KG butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1-2cm cubes

A little olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

1 onion, peeled and diced

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

A sprinkle of dried sage

200ml of vegetable stock

175ml white wine

150g of spinach

30g of toasted pine nuts

125g of crumbled vegetarian blue cheese

50g of feshly grated vegetarian Parmesan cheese

1litre of passata

6 sheets of fresh lasagne

Method

Pour a little olive oil into a large pan and add the diced onion, sauté for 5 minutes or until soft.

Add the peeled & diced butternut squash and garlic to the pan, give it a good stir.

Add the herbs, vegetable stock and wine, you may as well pour yourself another glass whilst you’re at it.

Season with freshly ground black pepper, stir, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until the squash is just soft.

If there’s any liquid left in the pan, drain it off then lightly mash the squash with the back of a spoon.

Add the spinach, crumbled blue cheese, half the parmesan and half of the pine nuts. Stir the mix and cover until the spinach has milted.

Lay out the lasagne sheets and place a hearty spoonful of the mix on each one, roll up and place in a greased baking dish.

Pour the passata over the cannelloni until they are almost covered and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan and pine nuts.

Bake in the oven at 200C for 20-30 minutes or until the pasta is tender.

How to take pictures of the Aurora

I’m no professional photographer, but I can use a camera. Last year I started taking pictures of star trails and recently with the hightened geomagnetic activity we thought we’d have a go at shooting the Aurora whilst it was here.

Depending on where you are and at what stage the Aurora is at will determine what you need. Over the last few days the ‘Kp index‘ of the Aurora has been fairly low, so the further south you are the dimmer the lights will appear. Ideally you need to be close to the earth’s magnetic poles but they’re still visable from further away. When we went out the green hue wasn’t really visible to look at, it just looked like a cloud in the sky near to the horizon, but with a digital SLR camera or high end compact you should be able to get some good results.

What you need

  • A digital camera with Av (Aperture Priority), bulb or manual modes.
  • A sturdy tripod
  • Remote shutter release

I’ve got a Canon 450D, it’s a few years old but it does exactly what I need it to do, it has Av and bulb modes which means I can set the shutter to be open for 30 seconds or more to capture all the available light.

My tripod is a Velbon CX-540, it stands tall enough to not need the elevator up so it stays steady in the wind. Because you’ll be taking long exposures you need to minimise any movement, even a light breeze will cause a blur in your pictures.

Using a remote shutter release also minimises any movement of the camera, because you’re not pressing the button down on the camera body it eliminates the initial shake, I’ve got a cheap Hama CA-1 for my Canon which also lets me lock the shutter down to shoot continually, useful for taking photographs of star trails.

What now?

So you’ve got the kit, what now? If you’re in the north east then the Aurora will usually appear fairly low to the horizon due to our location, you’ll need a good clear view from a dark location away from any light pollution. We had a ride out to Saltburn, it’s far enough away from any large towns, after midnight the pier lights go off too so bear that in mind if you want to use the pier as a focal point of your pictures.

  • Set your tripod up on some sturdy ground, away from any direct lights, if it’s windy don’t wind the elevator up. Point your camera to the north and towards the horizon, this will change the further north you go, as your eyes get used to the dark you should be able to at least see a faint smudge of the aurora so try and aim for that.
  • With your camera in Av (Aperture Priority) mode set the aperture as wide as you can, this lets as much light in through the lens as possible, meaning you can use a lower ISO, you’ll end up with less noise on the final image. I had mine set between f/3.5 and f/5.6.
  • Shutter Speed, set it as slow as possible, most cameras will go to at least 30 seconds and then have a bulb mode. 30 seconds should be long enough to capture a decent picture but if you have a remote shutter release in bulb mode the shutter will stay open as long as you’re holding down the button. Again, play around with a few test shots and see what works best for you.
  • Set your ISO to either 400 or 800, again depending on the aperture of your lens this can change. The lower the f/ the wider the aperture opens meaning more light can hit the camera sensor. More light means you need a lower ISO sensitivity. It’s best to play around with these settings once you’re happy you have everything else set up.
  • Set your White Balance, I used 4000K to keep the images a cold blue/white and to stop any extra light turning the sky orange.
  • Manual focus, it’s dark, your automatic focus won’t be able to see anything to do this for you. If you can, try and focus on something towards infinity, be warned that some lenses including mine focus past infinity when you turn the focus ring so don’t just turn it all the way and hope for the best. I used some lights from the ships that were out at sea to set mine. You might want to tape the focus ring down once you’ve got it set just in case you knock it.
  • Wrapped up warm and with your remote shutter release in hand, fire away!

 Useful Resources

Virtual Astronomer

Universe Today

Meteor Watch

NOAA Space Weather Scales

Aurora over Saltburn

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Ice Cream Sandwich on the HTC Desire

I got my HTC Desire back at the beginning of 2010, my second Android phone because I liked the Hero so much. It came with Froyo and HTC made a Gingerbread update available in 2011.

The Desire only has 512MB of flash memory, when HTC made the Gingerbread update they repartitioned the flash to make more space for /system and less for /data, one problem with this is that there’s now only 147MB available for /data.

Because on this I’ve always had to run a tight ship app wise on my Desire, HTC bundled Facebook and Flash with their ROM, these took up a lot of space on /data.

I stumbled across this thread over at xdadevelopers, Sandvold and others have been working on getting ICS working on the Desire and as it turns out they’ve done one hell of a job!

Ice Cream Sandwich

Ice Cream Sandwich

I grabbed the latest ROM from http://www.sandvold.as, rooted my phone with Revolutionary and set to work.

A few minutes later I had ICS on my Desire, it’s still very much in beta but it’s running Android 4.0.3 with pretty much full hardware support and it has more free space in /data, but wait, this is where Apps2SD comes to the rescue!

Apps2SD makes your phone think your SD card is part of the internal storage and essentially extends /data onto it so everything to do with an application and system caches can be stored there! So as long as you have a class 4 or above card in your phone it really does help extend the life of the Desire.

A few issues…

It’s beta and it seems to have a few issues but nothing to stop me using it every day…

  • After A2SD has been installed the ring and notifications tones are fairly quiet.
  • The camera shutter sound is always on, even when the phone is set to silent.
  • Sometimes when you press and hold a key on the keyboard for the pop up shortcuts you have to move your finger well away from the character you want to select to actually select it.
  • No video recording or panorama in the Camera app.
  • No USB mass storage mode support, ICS is supposed to support MTP on Windows but that doesn’t work either. You can however reboot to ClockworkMod recovery and enable USB mass storage mode there.
  • Sometimes the Screen Lock enables itself immediately when you put the phone to sleep even if it is set to lock 2 minutes after sleep.

Whitby Abbey star trails

Whitby Abbey star trails

Roughly 90, 30 second exposures stacked. Oh, it was a bit windy too!

f3.5, ISO 800, WB 3500K

White Russian ice cream recipe

Sometimes, a nice White Russian simply won’t do, so why not go one better than The Dude and mix it together with home made ice cream!

Ingredients

125ml of whole milk

600ml of double cream

200g of sugar

The yolks of 4 medium eggs

1 tablespoon of Agar Agar flakes (You can use gelatin if you’re not making it vegetarian)

60ml of water

150ml of good vodka

150ml of Kahlua

An ice cream mixer

Method

Add the milk, cream and sugar to a pan, put on a low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. You don’t want to boil it, just heat it through until just before it boils and the sugar has dissolved.

In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks.

Slowly add a little bit of the hot milk/cream mixture whisking all the time. This is called tempering, you don’t want too much of the hot mixture to come in contact with the egg yolks or they will go lumpy. The idea is you add a little bit at a time so the yolks don’t get hot enough to solidify.

Once you’ve incorporated all of the milk/cream mixture into the egg yolks you have your custard.

Strain the custard back into a pan and heat for a few minutes, stirring constantly.

Coat the back of a spoon with the custard, run your finger across it, if you can make a line without any of the mixture running back over the line it’s ready.

Strain the custard into another bowl, cover with cling film, place in another bowl filled with ice and put it in the fridge for at least 8 hours, overnight if possible.

Add the water to a pan and sprinkle the Agar Agar flakes over the top, heat the water until the Agar Agar dissolves and stir until it thickens.

Add the vodka and Kahlua, mix and then strain into the cold custard. Give it all a good stir.

Take the freezer bowl for the ice cream maker from the freezer and immediately add the custard.

Mix it for up to 40 minutes, it should start to thicken after 20 minutes depending on how cold your freezer bowl is.

That’s it! If you want your ice cream thicker pour it from the freezer bowl into a container and place in the freezer overnight.

The Dude would be truly proud!

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